Unions can hurt job market

By By Zack Oakey and By Zack Oakey

By Zack Oakey

If you’ve passed the southwest side of the University Hospital complex within the past few days, you will have noticed a large white sign displaying the bold, red-lettered words: “SHAME ON THE COLLEGE OF NURSING.” It’s a public display indicating there is a labor dispute between Kenco Drywall Inc., a subcontractor, and Jacobsen Construction, a general contractor, both of whom are employed to finish the renovations currently taking place in the College of Nursing. This is not something we want to be seen on our campus, but nevertheless it is something that will always be a part of labor-relations issues.

Labor unions, the “closed shop” as the English say, have been a part of commercial ventures since the advent of industry. This is a good thing. Employees voluntarily collectivizing, contracting and bargaining for their wages and seeking control over the safety of their work environment is not something that should concern us. What should concern us is when a good organization turns into a bad one, when it’s organizing administration realizes that it must grow to survive and do so at the cost of jobs and quality of life.

One of the workers, Juan Quirardo, didn’t like that he had to stand in the sun for a couple of hours a day and said, however tongue-in-cheek, that he voluntarily came, without pay, to hold their banner. He said the benefits he expected to gain from the protest outweighed the costs of not being paid for five hours per day. He believed that what he was doing was standing up for the rights of workers everywhere. He said if unions hadn’t existed, that businesses would have never given workers the “rights” they have now. He said these include health insurance, “living” wage and holidays with extended sick leave, and so on.

It is true that unionized employees earn, on average, more than their non-unionized cohorts, but it isn’t clear that this is a good thing, nor is it clear that this is a “right.” Whatever the term means, “rights” should not cost us our livelihoods and the efficiency of businesses that feed, clothe and protect us.

Milton Friedman, the University of Chicago Nobel Laureate economist, said, “Unions get higher wages for their members by restricting entry into an occupation, those higher wages are at the expense of other workers who find their opportunities reduced.” The current ultra-depression in California proves this point as one of the most union-controlled states in the nation. Investor’s Business Daily called it “Detroit, only with sunshine,” and it shows. Between 1997 and 2007, unionized populations grew by 24 percent, and from 1990 to 2007, the state lost 26 percent of its factory jobs and 35 percent of its high-tech jobs. Job opportunities are well reduced in California, as Friedman predicted.

Unfortunately, there isn’t much we can do about the labor dispute on upper campus. The U said making a contract with Jacobsen and whomever it selects as a subcontractor is its business. The U, furthermore, allows public protest on its campus. Both of these are agreeable to me. The U should allow Jasobsen to do whatever is necessary to keep costs down and quality up, and if the individuals involved don’t agree with how Jacobsen arranged its affairs and if it wants to complain as a group, fine. It’s anyone’s right to speak and meet publicly so long as property rights are not violated. For now, let’s simply be informed bystanders, and wherever we hear rhetoric about how unions protect rights and so on, hold tight to your pocket books, it might cost you your job.